Increasing county access

PRINCEVILLE — Bill Robertson, owner of Princeville Botanical Gardens, said he could probably use some help getting rid of a couple of albizia trees on his property.

But he’s not inclined to support a current bill in the Legislature that would give the county the authority to be involved. He says the measure, House Bill 606, encroaches on property owner rights.

“I think there ought to be another way to take care of it,” Robertson said. “I’m all for getting rid of invasive species, but I don’t like the idea that the county could just come onto your land and do something.”

HB 606 does just that — it gives the counties in Hawaii the authority to enter private property for the purpose of eradicating and/or controlling invasive species or pests.

Creating a targeted approach to the removal of pests and invasive species is the reason the measure was created, according to the bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Nicole Lowen (D), District 9.

“We’ve come to realize, if we’re going to be effective at addressing invasive species, it’s going to take state, county and community effort,” Lowen said.

HB 606 would create the opportunity for that collaboration, she said, since the state already has the authority to enter private properties for the purpose of eradication or control of invasive species and pests.

“It’s hard when you have a neighbor that’s not willing to allow access, or they have to treat a property next to yours and the landowner isn’t around,” Lowen said.

According to current law, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture has to give at least five days notice to the landowner and the occupier of private properties before entry.

If the department is denied access, law directs the entity to obtain a warrant that would allow entry of the property.

HB 606 would expand that right to include county employees, or agents authorized by either DOA or the county.

“The state already has the right to enter private property for this purpose but it doesn’t have an army of workers,” Lowen said. “This would help leverage the help of community members.”

The Hawaii Invasive Species Committee identifies the invasive species that would be targeted, but the bill also includes the eradication of pests, which expands the purview of the bill.

According to state law, pests are defined as insects, mites or plant diseases that have a record of causing or are about to cause economic damage to agriculture industries; that transmit plant diseases, or things that are dangerous to livestock, like something that’s poisonous.

“It seems like this gives the county the authority to come into any piece of land under the guise of eradicating invasive species,” Robertson said. “They should go back to the drawing board and find a better way to handle this.”

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